The University of Chicago News Office
April 23, 1997 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

New Project to Unite Religion and Public Life

A new endeavor to better relate religion to American public life–The Public Religion Project–has been announced by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The project will connect religious leaders and scholars to those who influence public life: artists, educators, the media, lawmakers and business leaders.

“We hope to join together a whole range of people who represent aspects of daily life where religion can or does have an influence,” said University of Chicago professor Martin E. Marty, who will direct the project. “We see almost limitless possibilities.”

Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, is considered one of the country’s foremost experts on American religion and has also taught on “public religion” topics for over three decades at Chicago.

He was chosen by The Pew Charitable Trusts to lead this new venture in part because of his direction of the successful Fundamentalism Project, which focused on militant fundamentalisms in world religions.

The new program will be hosted by Chicago and funded by the Philadelphia-based set of trusts. Marty has planned a three-year program, but expects the Project to extend well beyond that time. The Public Religion Project offices are located in downtown Chicago, at 919 N. Michigan.

The associate director of the new project is Edith Blumhofer, a Harvard-educated historian who combines academic, foundation and association experience. She has headed the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals and has worked for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The project staff also includes Ann Rehfeldt, Project Coordinator, and Mary Noll, who will supervise a comprehensive database that links the Chicago-based program with people from many professions, religions and outlooks from all over North America.

“We do not conceive of the project as a center or an institute, so we are trying to keep its institutional aspect small and concentrated,” said Marty.

The project’s work will extend beyond the walls of academe into the various domains inhabited by mass communicators, political and governmental leaders, educators, artists and writers, leaders in business and commerce, personnel in voluntary associations, foundation officers, people in advertising and public relations, representatives of the medical world, and religious leaders.

But it will remain deeply rooted in the academic traditions, resources and personnel of the University. According to Marty, the Divinity School has long focused on religion and public life.

“The professional dimension of the Divinity School, in which I remain active, has focused on the preparation of men and women for ‘public ministry’ through the public church,” said Marty. “The School’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion pioneered a Religion and Public Life multi-year program more than a decade ago. And much of the theology and social analysis of the School has traded on how the strengths of private religion can be dedicated to the public order.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts, a national and international philanthropy with a special commitment to Philadelphia, support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy and religion. Through their grant-making, the Trusts seek to encourage individual development and personal achievement, cross-disciplinary problem solving and innovative, practical approaches to meeting the changing needs of a global democracy.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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